Superintendent presents options to add world language at elementary schools

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PROSPECT — As the Region 16 Board of Education puts the finishing touches on its 2019-20 budget proposal, officials are weighing a couple of options to introduce world language at the elementary schools.

The board, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, has been discussing adding world language to the elementary school curriculum for several years. In 2016, the region implemented an afterschool enrichment world language program for students in third, fourth and fifth grade. The program introduced students to different languages, including Spanish and Italian, through a mix of instruction and independent learning with Rosetta Stone software.

As things stand now, Region 16 students are first introduced to world languages in sixth grade through Rosetta Stone. Students then can take Spanish or Italian classes starting in seventh grade.

Some board members have been advocating this year to put world language classes into the regular school day at the region’s two elementary schools.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin last week presented the board with two options to bring world language to the elementary schools.

The first option is to use Rosetta Stone to introduce fifth-graders to world language and hire a full-time teacher for sixth-grade world language. This option also includes hiring an instructional aide to run the Rosetta Stone program at the elementary schools.

The second option is to hire two full-time world language teachers — one for fifth grade and another for sixth grade — as well as use Rosetta Stone at the elementary schools.

Yamin estimated the first option would cost about $90,000. He said the cost could be absorbed into his budget proposal due to other staff changes without impacting the roughly $40.73 million proposal, which keeps school spending flat, he presented in February.

The second option, Yamin said, is estimated to cost as much as $150,000 and would likely mean a slight spending increase in the budget proposal.

Officials are also waiting on the renewal cost for health care, which could impact the proposed budget as well.

The board didn’t take any action on the world language options.

Board member Nazih Noujaim, who speaks Lebanese, said he appreciates world language but is against adding it at the elementary schools right now due to financial concerns, considering the fiscal shape Connecticut is in and that the addition would be an ongoing cost moving forward.

“The bottom line, I’m not in favor of doing anything at this point,” he said.

Board Chair Robert Hiscox said he would prefer the option of phasing world language in at the elementary schools, so that it wouldn’t have a budget impact this year and officials could see what effect it would have on instruction and curriculum.

Aside from the financial aspect, officials also have to determine how to fit world language into the elementary school schedule, especially since the state requires a certain number of hours for core subjects.

Administrators previously submitted a proposal to replace a media class fifth-graders take now — a course that focuses on using computers and is taken on a rotating basis — with world language.

The proposal to add world language at the elementary schools received support from the school board’s student representatives — Woodland Regional High School students Bayan Galal and Emma Flaherty.

Galal, who grew up speaking Arabic and English and is fluent in both, felt it would be beneficial for students to be exposed to world languages at a young age.

Flaherty echoed Galal’s sentiments, saying she went through the Rosetta Stone program in sixth grade and it helped her in later grades.

“I think the younger you start the more experience you’ll have and the more progress you’ll make,” she said.

The Board of Education will present its 2019-20 budget proposal at a hearing April 10 at 7 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School.